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Proposed Seaside Mansion Raises Tide of Ire in Cape Town

Fri September 26, 2008 - Northeast Edition
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WELLFLEET, Mass. (AP) A proposed seaside mansion in Wellfleet has made the Cape town the latest scene of the clash between the values of preserving town character and respecting private property rights.

A 6,000-sq.-ft. mansion is being proposed on a bluff at the same site where a widely despised house nicknamed the Billboard House was built in the 1980s. The Billboard House was so hated by locals that it was once given a unanimous vote of disapproval by town meeting members.

But when the Billboard House was demolished in June, it was only to make way for a mansion three times as big. Owners Mark and Barbara Blasch received a permit from the town building inspector, even though their property is within the Cape Cod National Seashore, a national park formed in 1961 to preserve the Cape’s character.

“This house is like poking your thumb in the eye of the town of Wellfleet, as far as I’m concerned,’’ Peter Watts, a landscape artist, told The Boston Globe. “It’s just antagonizing people.’’

The National Park Service is arguing the town should have required a special permit and is asking the Board of Appeals to reconsider the project. Meanwhile, at least four large houses are being planned in Wellfleet, leaving the town working to pass zoning regulations to prevent new construction from changing the town too drastically.

The Blasches did not respond to a Globe request for an interview. Their lawyer, Ben Zehnder, said the couple has played by the established rules.

“I don’t have a right to tell my neighbor what to build,’’ he said. “I have a right to tell my neighbor to build within the existing zoning laws.’’

The issues being hashed out came up in Wellfleet when the Billboard House went up and caused much angst. At the time, the Cape Cod National Seashore, an arm of the National Park Service, urged the town to adopt limits on home expansions. But nothing was enacted.

“What we’re doing now is catching up to the fact that, for a whole variety of reasons, nothing was ever really done,’’ said Dale Donovan a member of the Wellfleet Board of Selectmen. “Now that we have become … a target for people who are buying and tearing down and building much larger houses, we found it absolutely necessary to act.’’

On Aug. 19, selectmen approved zoning bylaw changes to limit house sizes within the Cape Cod National Seashore. The planning board approved its own version of the changes and plans a public hearing. To take effect, complicated zoning changes must be approved by two-thirds of voters at an Oct. 27 town meeting.

“What we’re trying to achieve is a balance between property rights and community character. That’s not always easy,’’ said Barbara Gray, a member of the Wellfleet planning board. “We hope we have the answer this time.’’

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